Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas album review

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Veteran Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen will bring his inimitable gravel-and-honey voice to Australia in November for a national tour. To mark the return of the 78-year-old troubadour, Neil Walker reflects on his most recent album: 2012’s Old Ideas.

Sometimes, crime pays. Old Ideas, Leonard Cohen’s first album in eight years, would never have existed if his accountant hadn’t pilfered money from him, forcing Cohen out of self-imposed exile and retirement in a Zen monastery.
Leonard’s loss is our gain.
You know what you’re going to get with a Leonard Cohen album – melancholic existential contemplation – and Old Ideas is no different. This is not a complaint.
But it’s a stroke of quiet genius for Old Ideas’ opening gambit Going Home to have Cohen (or is it God?) dub “Leonard” a “lazy bastard in a suit”. It draws listeners in with nice dash of laughing Len’s self-deprecating humour.
Cohen is now 77 years old so it’s hardly surprising that Old Ideas is mostly preoccupied with mortality. Sparse, but never leaden, arrangements allow the words to shine. And Cohen has always been about the words.
Darkness sheds light on his state of mind: “I’ve got no future/I know my days are few/The present’s not that pleasant/Just a lot of things to do”. Amen sees Cohen seek reassurance from a lover to “tell me again” that he’s needed “when the angels are panting and scratching at the door”.
It’s not a set of songs for parties then but its lighter moments – most notably Going Home and the closing Different Sides (wherein Cohen complains to another lover “You want to change the way I make love but I want to leave it alone” – he’s 77, after all!) – make its darker aspects palatable and – when in the right (wrong?) frame of mind – rather cathartic.

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